With only a few days left before the world debut of the all-new Golf Mk8, Volkswagen thought about doing a recap of the previous seven generations that made the Golf an automotive icon.
We start today with the first-generation Golf (Typ 17) which may look plain right now but was a revolution when it came out in 1974. Penned by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro working for Italdesign, the Golf was a monumental shift from its predecessor, the Beetle, both from a design and engineering standpoint.
It brought looks that stood the test of time and went on to define all future Golf generations. The compact car featured elegant proportions and an understated appearance: everything served a purpose both inside and out.
As for engineering, it shifted from the Beetle’s dated rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive setup to a front-engined, front-wheel-drive configuration that allowed for better packaging, a roomier interior with a folding rear seat backrest, great visibility, and safer driving characteristics.
The first series-production VW Golf rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg in March 1974 and became available at dealerships from May the same year. Available initially in three- and five-door body styles, the Golf Mk1 added the first-ever Golf GTI variant in 1976 and the Golf Cabriolet in 1979.
Mechanically, the Golf was as simple as it was effective. The hatchback ditched the air-cooled boxer engine found in the Beetle and during its life cycle featured only water-cooled inline four-cylinder power plants. Gasoline units ranged from 1.1 liters to 1.8 liters (in late GTI models) while the diesels were available with displacements of 1.5 and 1.6 liters (the latter with turbocharging from 1982).
Power outputs ranged from a modest 50 PS (49 HP) in the 1.1-liter gasoline engine offered at launch to 110 PS (108 HP) in the Golf GTI available from 1982 to 1983. Those who wanted more could have ABT turbocharge the Golf GTI 1.8L to 163 PS (161 HP).
Transmission choices included a four-speed manual for all gasoline engines until August 1979, when a five-speed unit became standard. As for the diesels, the naturally aspirated engines featured a four-speed manual while the 1.6-liter turbodiesel offered from 1982 to 1983 in the Golf GTD came with a five-speed manual as standard. Certain engines were available with an optional three-speed automatic gearbox as well.
Production of the first-gen VW Golf ended in 1983 (except for South Africa where it continued until 2009), by which time the automaker had sold 6.99 million units worldwide, including the aforementioned derivatives and the Jetta, which back then was nothing more than a two- or four-door Golf sedan. In the U.S., the Golf Mk1 launched as the Rabbit in July 1978, followed by the Jetta four-door sedan in 1980.
The VW Golf Mk1 was a huge hit, proving itself as a worthy successor of the Beetle and a very tough act to follow, as future generations proved.
VW Golf Mk I timeline
1974: Debut of the first Golf
1976: 500,000th Golf in March
1,000,000th Golf in October
First Golf GTI
First Golf with diesel engine
1978: 2,000,000th Golf in June
Debut of the US Rabbit version in July
1979: 3,000,000th Golf in September
First Golf Cabriolet
Debut of the Caddy van
1982: 5,000,000th Golf in February
First Golf with turbocharged diesel engine (GTD)
1983: First-generation phased out in western Europe after 6.99 million units had been produced